Oranges to excess (or, “Orange you done yet?”)

Although the Algarve doesn’t really have a winter (it just goes straight from autumn to spring), we call the oranges that ripen this time of year “winter oranges,” and they are the sweetest of all the varieties. I adore winter oranges.

Oranges and juice

This is the result of a normal morning session with our juicer—a sad lineup of flaccid husks and a proud glass brimming with the good stuff. I can gulp down one of these a day, easily, and wish for more.

So I got to wondering: is there a danger in overusing the juicer? What happens if we drink too much orange juice?

My first thought was that the acidity could damage the stomach lining, but our own stomach acid is pretty brutal, so that’s not really an issue. The lining of the esophagus is more fragile, as is the enamel on our teeth, but it seems more folks damage those while drinking carbonated beverages than orange juice.

There are two main dangers with an orange juice overdose. The first is with excessive Vitamin C. Our bodies can only metabolize so much Vitamin C and will excrete the rest, but sometimes we can’t excrete it fast enough and it builds up. In that event, there are some unpleasant symptoms, ranging from stomachaches and cramps to vomiting, insomnia, and kidney stones.

But wait, there’s more! Orange juice is also very rich in potassium. And while our bodies depend on potassium (it’s a critical element in the operation of our nerve cells), there is such a thing as too much. In reading up on it, I found this interesting case history:

Over a period of a few days the 51-year old subject of this case history developed muscle weakness that progressed to flaccid paralysis in all four limbs requiring urgent hospital referral. Admission laboratory testing revealed severe hyperkalemia, serum potassium 9.0 mmol/L, a level associated with high risk of life threatening cardiac arrhythmias and sudden cardiac arrest. Emergency treatment was successful with return of serum potassium to a normal value of 5.0 mmol/L within a few hours. Neuromuscular function was restored over the same time period. In the absence of renal insufficiency (the most common pathological cause of hyperkalemia) and with exclusion of endocrine causes, this episode of hyperkalemia was finally attributed to excessive ingestion of orange juice…

By now you may be worrying, much as I did: “But I love orange juice! It’s good for me! And now you’re telling me I can paralyze myself with it? And risk a heart attack?”

Let’s read a little further:

…when the patient admitted drinking 2.5 litres of orange juice (potassium concentration 450 mg/l) every day for the preceding three weeks to quench thirst during a spell of hot weather.

Holy juicers, Batman! Two and a half liters per day??

Okay, I think we’re all safe.

Posted in food, Portugal, science | 4 Comments

SDO Year 5

What has collected over 200 million images and 2,600 terabytes of data, and just celebrated its fifth anniversary?

The Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO. And I have to admit that when I saw the part about “2,600 terabytes of data” my eyeballs nearly fell out. That is a metric sh*t ton of data!

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory…provides incredibly detailed images of the whole sun 24 hours a day. Capturing an image more than once per second, SDO has provided an unprecedentedly clear picture of how massive explosions on the sun grow and erupt ever since its launch on Feb. 11, 2010. The imagery is also captivating, allowing one to watch the constant ballet of solar material through the sun’s atmosphere, the corona.

To mark the SDO’s anniversary, NASA made a glorious highlights reel. I started to mark down the moments when something really impressed me, so I could tip you off here, but gave up when one image after another qualified as gorgeous. This is a beautiful video, choreographed to lovely music. Sit back, fire it up in fullscreen HD, and remember: you’re watching our star.

(Hat tip to Joe.)

Posted in astronomy, video | 4 Comments

Wallpaper Monday

Crater Lake

Oregon’s only national park, a geological wonder, and one of the most awesome bike rides in the US: Crater Lake National Park.

And yes, it’s a lake inside a volcano. Not just that, but it’s the deepest lake in the United States, and one of the ten deepest in the world. And it is COLD.

This is already on my own computer screen. Grateful hat tip to Erik.

(Click the image to craterate.)

Posted in Oregon, wallpaper | 2 Comments

Epic snow breaker, backups and more

Let’s get the day started off right and watch Canadian National Railway locomotive 2304 plow through deep snow near Salisbury, New Brunswick. You’ll definitely want to put this on HD if you can, just for the fun of it.

Only the first minute or so is taken up with the footage of the train breaking trail; the rest is simply the freight cars passing by. This is one of those things that North Americans take for granted and western Europeans are amazed by—trains that are so long they require several minutes to pass.

*****

In other news, tech blogger Adam Engst proposed that yesterday—Friday the 13th—be designated International Verify Your Backups Day. He brings up an excellent point, which is that most people who have backups set them up once and then forget about them. Until something goes wrong, of course, and then they finally check their backups, find corrupted files, and watch a bad day get even worse.

Backups are great insurance, but they are not impervious to the issues that affect digital files. The software can have a hitch. The connection might be bad. The original file might get corrupted and then you’re backing up bad files one over the other. Anything can happen, and if you never verify your backup, you’ll never know until it’s too late.

Here’s a perfect example from the comments section:

I got hired as IT manager of a small company with 5 stores. Each store had rotating backups on 3 hard drives, one was kept offsite at all times.

So the day after I was hired, the main server drive crashed…I went to the backup drive, it was formatted FAT32, which has a max file size of 2Gb. The backup files were about 12Gb, so only the first 2 gigs were recorded. Every backup of every drive in the company was corrupt, due to incompetent setup. Nobody ever tested this for the 2 years the backup scheme was in place.

To make a long story short, they had to send the drive to a disk recovery company. Cost: $4000.

It was a great system—multiple, rotating backups with one offsite—except for the minor issue of being broken from the very beginning.

It’s easy to verify a backup: just randomly restore some files from different directories. Open them up and make sure they work. Hit all the main media types: a document, a music file, a photo, a video. If you’re like me and you make an entire bootable clone as a backup, then every now and then boot your computer off the clone. Launch a few of the apps and open some files.

Yes, it’s a minor pain, but it only takes a few minutes. And you will thank yourself if you verify your backup and find that it has problems. Because at this point, you can fix it. When your hard drive has failed and you have zero access to your original files, it’s far too late.

*****

For type and font geeks, Frere-Jones is running a series of posts on the art of creating a typeface—an art which most of us take for granted without realizing just how much science, math, and general tweaking goes into it.

For example, lining up letters mathematically doesn’t work, because what counts is what our eyes see, and our eyes see straight lines and curved lines differently. If the O below was the same height as the letters to either side of it, our eyes would perceive it as being smaller. For us to see it as the same size, it must be taller. This is called overshoot.

Font overshoot

Typeface mechanics is full of such counterintuitive details, and they’re fascinating. Check out Frere-Jones for the first post in this series, and stay tuned for more.

*****

And finally: It’s Carnaval time! Yesterday was the first day of festivities, when the kids get to have their own parade. I drove through town on an errand and had to stop to let thirty kids cross the street, all wearing matching outfits of dark green pants, red shirts (the colors of the Portuguese flag), and big, curly, bright yellow wigs. It was beyond cute.

Today is the first of the adult parades, which will feature topless women dancing madly—and in what I’ve come to see as tradition, the weather is cold. I think those women dance so frenetically because they’ll turn blue otherwise. Ironically, yesterday was sunny and warm. At least the kids got to stay toasty.

This is also the time when my little town more than doubles in size, and driving anywhere requires a certain level of masochism (or insanity).

I think we’ll walk downtown for lunch and check out all the crazies.

Posted in life, Portugal, tech | 7 Comments

Fifty Shades of Chicken

50 shades cover

This is a real book. Based on the 401 reviews on Amazon.com, it’s actually a good cookbook, if you can stop snickering long enough to follow the recipes.

A few samples:

Dripping Thighs
Sticky Chicken Fingers
Vanilla Chicken
Chicken with a Lardon
Bacon-Bound Wings
Spatchcock Chicken
Learning-to-Truss-You Chicken
Holy Hell Wings
Mustard-Spanked Chicken

The book’s web site now has a video featuring the Spatchcock Chicken. I can’t embed it, because YouTube thinks it’s only for mature audiences. Can’t imagine why; it’s just about chicken…

At any rate, if you’re not at work and don’t have small children in hearing range, you might want to visit the site and watch the video.

(Hat tip to Lisa.)

Posted in humor, video | 6 Comments

The Doves type story ends at last

Doves page

This is one of the most famous printed pages of all time: the first page of Genesis in the five-volume “English Bible,” printed by a tiny London press from 1902–1905, with a type designed specifically for that press and used by no other. In those three years, Doves Press printed 500 Bibles.

Today, a Doves Bible is worth upwards of $30,000.

The story of Doves Press and its beautiful namesake type would make a great book—indeed, it already has—but the story didn’t end until late last year. That was when the Doves type was found.

You can read an excellent account of how it was lost in a 2013 Economist article, which details how two men came together in a friendship and business partnership but later had a parting of the ways. In between, the business made a name for itself as a printer of fine books, sought by connoisseurs the world over. The Doves Bible became the most famous of them, followed closely by a printing of Paradise Lost.

But the man who actually ran the press, Thomas Cobden-Sanderson, was a ferocious perfectionist who believed that machine presses were an abomination. He did not appreciate his business partner’s lack of similar devotion, nor his opinions. Emery Walker’s contacts and business acumen helped establish Doves Press and keep it profitable, but Cobden-Sanderson was an artist down to the soles of his shoes.

In 1906, Cobden-Sanderson asked Walker to end their partnership so that he could run the press alone. But there was a catch. The initial contract stipulated that Walker had the right to a set of the type they had planned to develop for the press. By 1906 that type was famous—and Cobden-Sanderson was very possessive of it. He could not bear the idea of his glorious type being used in a machine press, and he knew that was exactly what Walker would do with it. So he offered a cash payment instead.

Walker refused, setting off a years-long feud. As Cobden-Sanderson wrote to a friend:

“Nothing on earth will now induce me to part with the type. I am what, he does not appear to realise, a Visionary and a Fanatic, and against a Visionary and a Fanatic he will beat himself in vain.”

It took three years before a mutual friend suggested a compromise: Cobden-Sanderson would retain the rights and use of the Doves type until his death, after which it would pass to Walker. Both men agreed.

But Cobden-Sanderson had no intention of keeping their agreement.

Unknown to Walker, at the height of their dispute he had asked the Scottish foundry that guarded their font to send him all the remaining pieces of Doves type, as well as the punches and matrices that would be needed to cast more. For several years it sat in his bindery, while he pondered whether or not to go through with his plan. Forced to cut expenses in order to keep the Doves Press alive, he moved in with it, setting up a lonely bedroom in the bindery attic (his wife went to live with her sister). Erratic diary entries suggest a return of the depressions that had haunted his youth. In 1913 he jettisoned the matrices from Hammersmith Bridge, rendering new type impossible. When he eventually retired three years later, the rest of the font went too.

Between August 1916 and July 1917, Cobden-Sanderson walked onto the Hammersmith Bridge more than 170 times and tossed some of his beloved type into the Thames. Sometimes it was whole pages, other times mere sprinklings of type from his pocket. It was a long-term, calculated act of destruction, taking place under cover of night. No one looked twice at the old man standing at the rail, and over the course of nearly one year, Cobden-Sanderson threw every single piece of Doves type into the Thames—some 2,600 pounds of it (1180 kilos). When it was finally done, and there was no possibility of anyone resurrecting his beloved type, he publicly announced that it had been “bequeathed to the Thames.” In his diary he wrote that only this act could guarantee that the Doves type would never be used in “a press pulled otherwise than by the hand and arm of man.”

Poor Mrs. Cobden-Sanderson paid the price for her husband’s obsession. She had initially bankrolled his business, then watched him choose his type over her, then was sued by his business partner in 1922, after her husband’s death. She ended up settling out of court, likely for about £700—half of her initial investment in the press.

And the cause of it all sat at the bottom of the Thames.

Fast forward nearly one hundred years, and the Doves type became an obsession for another man. In 2010, Robert Green decided to design a digital facsimile of it. He researched every sample he could get his hands on and spent four years painstakingly reproducing the type and adjusting it to be just so. In late 2014, his type finally finished, he decided to look for the original.

Keen to find out how he might go about recovering the type, Green contacted the Port of London Authority, which suggested he scan the riverbank himself before paying for professional divers to comb the area.

“I was able to pinpoint where he would have stood to within a five metre radius [based on Tidcombe’s work and Cobden-Sanderson’s journal] – he would have been trying to be surreptitious, as he didn’t want anyone to know what he was doing, and would have had his back turned to his house and Emery Walker’s in a spot concealed from passing traffic. I went on to the foreshore when the tide was out, looked around the riverbed and found three pieces within 20 minutes.”

The Port Authority carried out a two-day dive and recovered 150 pieces in all.

Doves type

It’s not a full alphabet and sadly, it’s unlikely that any more will be found.

“That section of the Hammersmith Bridge was bombed three times by the IRA, first in 1939 … and most recently in 2000,” says Green. “[As a result] it has been repaired a few times, and some of the concrete from the abutment must have flowed in to the riverbed and entombed the rest of the type. What we found was whatever must have escaped both the explosions and the repairs,” he adds.

Green has since refined his design, mostly adjusting spaces and curves, but feels he has done all he can. His project, and the story of the Doves type, has finally come to an end.

Posted in culture, life, tech | 5 Comments

Wallpaper Wednesday

Beavers Bend State Park

This is probably not where you think it is.

It’s Beaver’s Bend State Park, located on the shore of Broken Bow Lake in Oklahoma—a state that is not exactly known for its scenery. Though I hear the Witchita Mountains are beautiful…

(Click the image to biggify.)

Posted in USA, wallpaper | 1 Comment

The Hymn of Acxiom

I was browsing our CD collection for something new to hear in the car and picked up an album I hadn’t heard in forever: Waking Hour by Vienna Teng. All the way to Pilates and back that day, I was wondering why the heck I hadn’t listened to it in so long, because this woman is a brilliant lyricist and composer.

The next day my wife came home from work and said, “What do you have in the car? That’s fantastic!”

She was instantly a fan, so for the last few days we’ve been listening to samples of the five (!) albums that Vienna Teng has put out since I bought her debut album 13 years ago. Thanks, Spotify!

Her latest album has an amazing song on it called “Hymn of Acxiom,” a gorgeously arranged choral piece that makes one think of churches and cathedrals…until you listen to the lyrics. Which are creepy as hell.

One enterprising musician transcribed the song, and the ensuing video is a great way to appreciate the choral arrangement and the sheer artistry of the song. If you can do all that and still internalize the lyrics, you’re better at multitasking than I am, so I’m putting the lyrics below.

After listening to the song and reading through the lyrics, I looked up Acxiom. And then it all made sense. But I won’t tell you about that until the end.

Somebody hears you. You know that, you know that…
Somebody hears you. You know that inside.
Someone is learning the colors of all your moods, to
(say just the right thing and) show that you’re understood.
Here you’re known.

Leave your life open. You don’t have, you don’t have…
Leave your life open. You don’t have to hide.
Someone is gathering every crumb you drop, these
(mindless decisions and) moments you long forgot.
Keep them all.

Let our formulas find your soul.
We’ll divine your artesian source (in your mind),
Marshal feed and force (our machines will)
To design you a perfect love—
Or (better still) a perfect lust.
O how glorious, glorious: a brand new need is born.

Now we possess you. You’ll own that, you’ll own that…
Now we possess you. You’ll own that in time.
Now we will build you an endlessly upward world,
(reach in your pocket) embrace you for all you’re worth.

Is that wrong?
Isn’t this what you want?
Amen.

*****

Acxiom Corp. is a high-powered data broker based in Little Rock, Arkansas. It mines data on the online and offline activities of more than 500 million consumers worldwide, and sells these extensive files to any buyer who can afford them. That usually means companies that have something to sell, and want to know 1) who to target with ads, and 2) how to target them.

Acxiom hears you, learns the colors of your moods, gathers every crumb you drop…isn’t that what you want?

Creepy. But what a beautiful song.

Posted in music, video | 6 Comments

A most amazing “failure”

Sometimes the mainstream press really does not know what’s going on when it comes to anything techy.

Case in point: earlier this month, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon capsule that was destined to dock with the International Space Station and resupply it. Note: resupplying the space station was the actual mission.

Once the Dragon capsule had been zinged out into orbit, SpaceX then planned an attempt to recover the Falcon 9 rocket rather than letting it go boom, crash, splash as every first-stage rocket since the dawn of the space age has done. That’s what first-stage rockets do — they burn themselves out getting their payload to a certain height, and then they fall back to Earth and die, usually in a watery grave.

Until now. SpaceX has been designing a rocket that can be recovered, refueled, and reused. If it can accomplish this, it will hugely, HUGELY reduce the expense of launches.

Anyway. The Dragon capsule was indeed zinged out to orbit and it did indeed dock with the space station. It is there right now. The mission was a success.

The attempt to recover the Falcon 9 rocket ended with an explosion and many, many rocket pieces. Therefore, the mainstream press deemed this a “failure.” Meanwhile, all of the geeky blogs and space sites were practically vibrating the Intertoobs with their collective glee, because this was a seriously awesome event and a milestone in space exploration.

Let’s take a closer look at this failure, shall we?

First, if you haven’t yet met the Falcon 9, check out this video. In fact, you should check it out even if you have met the Falcon 9, because you’ll want to pay special attention to the four steering fins. They’re important in terms of what happened during this month’s recovery attempt.

This video is of a test launch in which the Falcon 9 was sent one kilometer straight up, and then returned to its launch site with hardly a bump. The first half of the video is from the onboard cam, which is located near the rocket’s nose and gives a perfect view of the ridiculously tiny steering fins. The second half of the video is the same launch, but viewed from the ground.

So, this is the rocket that can launch and then steer itself back to a precision landing. Pretty cool, eh?

But of course that test was only a kilometer of vertical height. In a real launch situation, coming back to a specified landing site after going all the way to the end of the first-stage burn is a little harder — at that point, Falcon 9 is 80 kilometers (50 miles) up and traveling 10 times the speed of sound. It’s also a wee distance from its original launch site, so it’s not a matter of just backing straight down.

Nevertheless, SpaceX gave this a try last year and indeed managed a soft water landing pretty close to where they wanted their rocket to land. And by pretty close, I mean they were expecting a landing accuracy of within ten kilometers (6.2 miles).

For the attempt this month, they used a drone ship: a barge designed to travel to the landing site and hang out there without any pesky humans in the way to get hurt if anything went wrong.

Spacex drone ship

Note that this drone ship is not 10 kilometers long. It’s not even one kilometer long. It’s actually 300 by 100 feet (91 by 30 meters), with wings that extend its width to 170 feet (52 meters).

Keep in mind that the legspan of the Falcon 9 is 70 feet (21 meters). So there’s not a lot of room for error here. In fact, for this attempt, SpaceX was targeting a landing accuracy of 10 meters.

To review: previous attempts were for a landing accuracy of 10 kilometers; this one was for 10 meters. That is an increase in accuracy of 99.9 percent.

So, what happened?

The Falcon 9 landed on the damn drone ship. It went 80 kilometers up, successfully launched the Dragon capsule into orbit, and then flew itself back down to a freaking postage stamp floating in the ocean and landed on it.

Yes, the landing was hard. Yes, it went kaboom. Spectacularly so. But it hit the target. That is amazing!

And the mainstream press said it failed. That’s like an Olympic gymnast doing a high bar routine where he launches himself into twelve consecutive flips (note: not physically possible) but lands on his butt and the judges all frown and say, “He didn’t stick the landing.”

Who the hell cares? He did twelve flips! And the Falcon 9 landed on target.

You know what else is amazing? SpaceX engineers say the reason the rocket didn’t stick its landing is because those little steering fins (remember that video?) ran out of hydraulic fluid right at the very end. The rocket could no longer steer, so it landed at an angle and went boom. Running out of hydraulic fluid is not a hard problem to fix. There’s every reason to think SpaceX is going to stick its landing sometime this year. And that will revolutionize space launches.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk, who also runs Tesla Motors in his spare time and is honestly the real-life Tony Stark, called the landing “close but no cigar — this time.” He also tweeted:

Next rocket landing on drone ship in 2 to 3 weeks w way more hydraulic fluid. At least it shd explode for a diff reason.

And:

Repairs almost done on the spaceport drone ship and have given it the name “Just Read the Instructions.”

And then, because he’s cool that way, Elon Musk released a Vine loop of the landing and explosion. WordPress won’t let me embed it, but trust me, you want to click that link. It’s made of just a few recovered frames from the onboard cameras. Musk captioned the individual photos.

Before impact, [steering] fins lose power and go hard over. Engine fights to restore, but…

Rocket hits hard at ~45 deg angle, smashing legs and engine section

Residual fuel and oxygen combine

Full RUD (rapid unscheduled disassembly) event. Ship is fine, minor repairs. Exciting day!

I hope RUD gets embedded in the lexicon of space travel, because it is the Best. Acronym. Ever.

Regarding the mainstream press, I suppose if you didn’t know squat about the limitations of current space launch technology, you’d look at that Vine video and call it a failure. But the rest of us call it breathtakingly awesome. I can’t wait to see the next one.

Posted in astronomy, science, tech, USA | 11 Comments

Wallpaper Monday

Maui house

When most people hear the word “Maui,” they don’t think of a scene like this. But all of the Hawaiian islands have a similar geographical division in which the prevailing winds bring tons of rain to the east and north sides, while the west and south sides are very dry. Since every island is actually a volcano, each one has a tall peak that blocks the moisture-laden winds from reaching the opposite side.

In fact, the word “kona” in Hawaiian means “leeward” — it refers to the dry side of the island, the side protected from the winds.

(Click on the image to embiggen.)

Posted in USA, wallpaper | 2 Comments